Benchmarking marketing costs. (And why agencies should welcome it)

The old adage of “measure twice, cut once” is something that holds true in marketing communications just as it does everywhere else.  And while benchmarking is usually something initiated by marketers seeking to verify assumptions, it should be an initiative that’s equally welcomed by agencies. 

Far from being something to dread, a benchmarking exercise is an opportunity to bring clarity through methodical evaluation, reasoned thinking and calm discussion.  Here’s why:

No more guess work 

A benchmarking exercise often begins because a client assumes they’ve been paying too much for services.  Without proper benchmarks, the key word here is ‘assumes’ and benchmarking should be undertaken to specifically take the guesswork out of ‘assume’ costs, and define what really constitutes fair value for everyone concerned.

Make budgets predictable 

We often hear marketers say things like, ’how is it that the same thing I asked for last week, costs way more just a week or so later?’  What’s perhaps really being asked here is, ‘I’m not sure how much things [should] cost’  A benchmarking exercise can bring clarity to agency cost structures while empowering marketers to make informed decisions, with a clear understanding of what they should reasonably be expecting and budgeting for.  

Alleviate agency / client tensions

Cost benchmarking can often help alleviate friction between agencies and their clients because cost structures become clearly defined on both sides before projects begin.  If an issue subsequently arises around costs, both the agency and the client can evaluate against recent benchmarks to justify or pushback on costs, thereby promoting discussion around data rather than assumptions.

Set performance expectations

With cost benchmarks clearly defined, both marketers and agencies can discuss and agree on performance expectations and requirements at the outset.  This enables agencies to knowingly undertake projects against a defined set of cost criteria and for clients to set aside adequate budgets that are in-line with expectations.

Manage change or integration

During times of acquisition or major change – particularly when multiple agencies are involved – benchmarking can help marketers manage and define budgets, and ensure multiple agencies are working within defined or accepted cost structures.  Not arming yourself with up-to-date benchmarks can otherwise lead to unwelcome budget surprises that cause tension and dissatisfaction on both sides of the value equation.

While these are just some of the positive highlights of benchmarking, the key takeaway here is marketers need to arm themselves with up-to-date benchmarking data at least once a year.  And it’s an exercise and discussion agencies should welcome just as much as marketers should welcome being able to manage budgets with greater transparency and ease.   

What benchmarks does your organization use to define fair value and manage costs?  For on agency cost structures, cost benchmarking, performance related incentive programs and /or contract (re)negotiation, give us a call.


Stephan Argent is Founder and Principal at Listenmore Inc offering confidential advisory to marketers looking for truly independent insight and advice they can’t find anywhere else. Read more like this on our blog Marketing Unscrewed / follow me @StephanArgent

Photo: Michael
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